By Arlo Tinsman-Kongshaug, Editorial Intern
Icons: we all make use of them in some form or another. Be they in the form of singers, actors, politicians or cartoon characters, we identify with them. We aspire to be them and we worship them.
We think we know who they are — at least until something jars our perspective.
Iconic Mug Shots, the new group show by Ray Vasquez, which features seven other artists, does exactly that. It paints some of the most instantly recognizable stars of pop culture in the most instantly recognizable pose of the police booking photo: the mug shot. The works explore how the images of these fantastic gods are impacted when placed within the circle our own vulnerable human reality.
As I walk into the Azul gallery with Vasquez and his wife Cora, the stars are definitely out. The walls are covered with a veritable pop icon constellation: Adam Levine, Keith Haring, Sophia Loren, and even Bugs Bunny and Mr. Potato Head. They are all painted as though they were caught at the moment the police cameras flashed across their faces.
So I asked, “Why?”
“Well,” said Vasquez, “We all have a day job and don’t want to be caught in these kinds of situations, so I think we fantasized [about what it would be like for these icons to be put into these circumstances]. “If you look up icon in the dictionary you will find references and images of more saint-like figures like Jesus Christ. You look up to those figures, but you also look up to these icons, their celebrity, which they each achieved for specific reasons, like musicians or actors or even politicians. And when you see them in a mug shot it’s like, ‘Wow, you guys are also kind of human in a way if you can be in a situation like that.’”
Then I asked them how they came up with these ideas.
“Well, a couple of years ago we did an icon show,” Vasquez said. “We did the 60s and 70s, just iconic figures. And we were in Long Beach at Warehouse 1333 and it was real successful, and this time we were thinking, ‘Let’s do something really similar.’ We like to do a lot of galleries, you know, like theme shows. We did Day of The Dead, we did a women’s show and we just thought ‘Ah, let’s repeat the show and see if we can further it.’ So as we were talking about celebrities and icons we thought of mug shots. It was just a conversation Cora and I had. Again, just the alter ego on the inside of us and looking into the people we look up to.”
“We try not to go back on the original [pure] icon or figure like Christ or Nelson Mandela. [Many of] these figures went to prison for years… They didn’t have mug shots of course. I mean, I’m not saying the Dalai Lama had a mug shot but still, he was chastised.”
“Well, we’re always trying to think of new themes and concepts that will stir up thought about things we’re talking about. The Iconic Mug Shots show that these famous people can get in trouble too,” Cora added. “I mean, with all the arrests going on it applies to everybody. Pointing to a mug shot of Charlie Chaplin, she said “He was blacklisted [as a suspected communist during post-World War II political hysteria]. He couldn’t come back to the U.S. so he had to go to Europe and if he came back he would be arrested. This guy was famous and known and beloved but still he was wanted.”
Ray also wanted to make it very clear that the intent was not to make fun of these icons. “We’re not trying to make fun of other people’s misfortunes” he said, “We’re not trying to make fun of them.”
Iconic Mug Shots is being shown through Oct. 25 at the Gallery Azul, 520 W. 8th St. in San Pedro